Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Albert Hofmann cycles on

Albert Hofmann, who first synthesized LSD-25 in 1938, has died at the age of 102. He was a chemist for Switzerland's Sandoz Laboratories, working on derivatives of ergot, when he came across the psychedelic (or entheogenic) compound. On April 16th, 1943, when he re-synthesized it, he had the first "acid" experience when a minute amount of it accidentally came in contact with his skin, and was absorbed. A few days later, on April 19, having been amazed at the intensity of his unintentional experience, he took a larger dose and went for a sometimes terrifying bicycle ride that opened his eyes to the potential of the drug to disclose dynamics of mind. The history of the use of "acid" (and other entheogens) since Hofmann's discovery has had many a fascinating chapter.

Hofmann was a co-author of The Road to Eleusis (that's a .pdf file), an important text for many an entheonaut, including me, and many other articles and books. His publications helped open the ongoing inquiry into the activity of these compounds and their role in the history of human culture.


Update: Here's Hofmann himself on his synthesis and his bicycle ride:

The first synthesis of Lysergsaure-diethylamid [or LSD, whose acronym derives from the initials of the German name, Trans.] is described in my laboratory notebook under the date 16 November 1938.1 This substance lysergic acid diethylamide, which has become world-famous under the designation LSD, was thus the product of rational planning. Chance first came into play later.

The novel compound came under routine pharmacological investigation in the biological-medicinal laboratory. In the research report, apart from a strong activity on the uterus and the evoking of a certain restlessness in the research animals during the narcosis, no properties were mentioned which might have pointed to a Coramin-like effect on circulation. The novel substance lysergic acid diethylamide appeared to be pharmacologically uninteresting, and underwent no further tests.

Yet five years later, once again during a creative midday break, the idea came to me in a strange way, again to synthesize lysergic acid diethylamide for further pharmacological testing. It was no more than a hunch! I liked the chemical structure of the substance - which led me to take this unusual step, since compounds as a rule were never handled again, when once discarded.

During the new repetition of the synthesis of lysergic acid diethylamide, a repetition, so to speak, grounded on a hunch, chance had the opportunity to come into play. At the conclusion of the synthesis, I was overtaken by a very weird state of consciousness, which today one might call "psychedelic." Although I was accustomed to scrupulously clean work, a trace of the substance must accidentally have entered my body, probably during the purification via recrystallization. In order to test this supposition, I made the first planned self-experiment with LSD three days later, on 19 April 1943. It was a horror trip. The details have already been described so many times, that they can be foregone here.

The article is fascinating, so, as the big bloggers say, go read the whole thing. It's the text of a speech Hofmann delivered to the 1996 Worlds of Consciousness Conference in Heidelberg, Germany.

Photo of Hofmann in 1993 from the Wikipedia article at the first link above.

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